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Storm Lingers, Flooding Roads, Creeks in Texas

Weather: Three people are reported dead and one is missing as 16 inches of rain fall on San Antonio. Governor declares a disaster.

July 04, 2002|LIANNE HART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HOUSTON — While a drought continues to parch the West, a powerful summer storm stalled over Central Texas this week, flooding highways, creeks and dams with as much as 16 inches of pounding rain.

By Wednesday, at least three people were reported dead and one was missing as a result of the deluge. The storm began Saturday and is expected to linger through today. The 16 inches of rain that fell on San Antonio--a record for the entire month of July--paralyzed parts of the city.

Gov. Rick Perry declared parts of the rain-soaked state a disaster Wednesday. After a helicopter tour of the hardest-hit areas, Perry said he had requested federal disaster relief. "Help is on the way," the governor said after touching down in San Antonio.

"We're not expecting a lot more rain, but the rivers are still at dangerously high levels," said Nezette Rydell, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in the Central Texas town of New Braunfels. "We're not out of the woods yet."

Torrential rains submerged more than 100 sections of San Antonio's freeways, causing massive traffic jams as thousands left work early before the roads became impassable.

More than 200 homes were knee-deep in murky water that quickly rose over lawns and seeped through walls. Neighbors clutching pets and photo albums sloshed through the muck to waiting rescue boats, while others found refuge on rooftops. At least two people were injured by water strewn with debris and tree limbs.

In the northern parts of Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, overflowing creeks forced firefighters to jump on Jet Skis to rescue stranded residents. Perry called out Texas Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to pluck motorists from as many as 150 cars stranded on Interstate 10 west of San Antonio.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, three people drowned in high waters caused by the storm.

In Utopia, west of San Antonio, a man on a farm tractor heading out to help his neighbors was washed off the road Tuesday and killed. On Sunday, an 18-year-old hiker from Austin drowned when he fell into a swollen creek. And Tuesday in nearby Bandera County, a driver was killed when his pickup skidded in a pool of water and slammed into a tractor-trailer rig.

One man remains missing near Utopia after he was swept away from a car stalled in deep water Tuesday.

The storm caught hundreds of holiday campers by surprise.

At Garner State Park, one of the most popular in Texas, rangers woke hundreds of campers in the middle of the night Tuesday to warn of rising flood waters.

"You couldn't believe it. It was pouring rain, but we managed to get most of them awake to tell them to clear out," said Glenda Zorn, who works in the park. "They couldn't leave the park because the roads were flooded, but they were able to move their RVs to higher ground."

Elsewhere in the park, drenched vacationers tramped up hills or clambered atop cabin roofs to escape the overflow from the Frio River, which was 25 feet above flood stage.

"It's not raining as much today," Zorn said Wednesday, "but the park is a real mess. It looks like rock and mudslides all over the place."

Flash flood warnings were to remain in effect overnight in 21 Texas counties, Rydell said.

Charles Kone, a rancher in Uvalde, about 80 miles west of San Antonio, said the rain was a welcome sight, at first. "We were way dry before; it was real droughty," he said. "We needed rain real bad, and, boy, we got it."

The rain is a major boost for the Edwards Aquifer, which is the only source of drinking water for more than 1 million people in San Antonio and surrounding areas.

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